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Undergraduate Engineering Student Perceptions of Graduate School and the Decision to Enroll

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Educational Research and Methods Potpourri I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1565.1 - 22.1565.15



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Paper Authors


Erin Crede Virginia Tech

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Erin D. Crede is a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech, where she also completed her B.S and M.S in Aerospace Engineering. Her doctoral research focuses on the social aspects of graduate education in engineering departments with internationally diverse populations using a mixed methods approach.

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Maura J. Borrego Virginia Tech

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Maura Borrego is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She is currently serving a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship at the National Science Foundation. Her research interests focus on interdisciplinary faculty members and graduate students in engineering and science, with engineering education as a specific case. Dr. Borrego holds U.S. NSF CAREER and Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) awards for her engineering education research. Dr. Borrego has developed and taught graduate level courses in engineering education research methods and assessment from 2005-2010. All of Dr. Borrego’s degrees are in Materials Science and Engineering. Her M.S. and Ph.D. are from Stanford University, and her B.S. is from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Undergraduate Engineering Student Perceptions of Graduate School and the Decision to EnrollIf the United States wishes to remain a globally recognized source of technological and scientificdevelopment, it must continue to recruit and retain domestic students into engineering graduateprograms. Although enrollment of domestic students in graduate science and engineeringprograms rose in 2007-2008 (5.9%), it is still approximately half of the growth of internationalstudent enrollment (11.0%). The focus of this study is to develop a more completeunderstanding of the factors that contribute to the students’ decision processes with respect topursuing a graduate degree in engineering. This study is part of a larger research program aimedat understanding the engineering graduate student experience; from the decision to enroll ingraduate school, to how socialization within graduate research groups contributes to the students’intent to complete their graduate degree. Using a sequential mixed methods research design, wecompleted nine months of ethnographically guided observations and interviews with currentgraduate engineering students. In these interviews we discussed their decision to enroll ingraduate school, what they wished they knew before they enrolled, and experiences in graduateschool that were not what they expected. Concurrently with these interviews, we spent twoacademic semesters observing the environment of three graduate engineering research groups.Analysis of this data was used to generate a pair of survey instruments, one each for graduate andundergraduate engineering students.In this paper we present a brief overview of the instrument development along with the resultsfrom the undergraduate survey, which examined how undergraduate engineering students viewedattending graduate school in engineering. Data were collected via an online survey instrumentduring the fall of 2010 at four universities across the United States, resulting in more than 1000respondents. Results of the quantitative analysis indicate that the presence of role models,students’ perceptions of their chance of success, and level of understanding regarding severalaspects of graduate school contribute to undergraduates’ decision to enroll. These results arediscussed using a Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) framework focusing on student selfefficacy, outcome expectations, interests, and future goals. We also consider contextual factorssuch as students’ level of support and perception of barriers to attending graduate school.The results of this study will help engineering departments gain a better understanding of theissues surrounding the student decision process, which will help better recruit potential graduatestudents and take steps to alleviate potential misconceptions regarding graduate engineeringeducation.

Crede, E., & Borrego, M. J. (2011, June), Undergraduate Engineering Student Perceptions of Graduate School and the Decision to Enroll Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18484

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